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Sunday, June 18, 2006

Reforming the education system - removing exam pressure

The levels of pressure that students of class X and XII undergo is enormous and ridiculous. We need to do something about it and soon. I have some radical and some not so radical views on this topic.
  • Firstly abolish this 'fail' business at class X and XII (guess this logic can be applied elsewhere also). The logic behind 'failing' students in exam is to ensure that students who have not attained a certain level to move on to next level of studies. The intention is genuine and in the interest of the students. However in case of Class X and Class XII there is an implicit system of discriminating between students. A student has scored less marks does not get admission to the college he/she wants or does not get the choice of subjects he/she wants. So if a student has scored less marks which means that he cannot get either the choice of subjects or college or both has the option of taking the exam again to improve his score. Now that being the case, why should the administrative people arbitrarily decide whether a certain score is good enough for him to be eligible to apply to colleges and below a certain score he is not. What scientific logic exists behind that magical number of 35? None to my knowledge. So, lets do away with it. A student gets a certain score in the exam - the exam is the same for every individual and so each student can be compared to other, and now the colleges can decide the criteria for admission. If a student does not get what he wants with his marks, he can appear again. If scoring 20, does not do him any harm, then fine, let him get on with his life. What you are doing in the process is taking a huge stigma associated with 'failing' in exam. The best judge of whether a student has learnt enough is not a arbitrary score in an exam given on a particular day, but whether what he has scored gives him the opportunities he thinks he deserves, if not then clearly the student has 'underperforming' relative to his abilities and will want to take the exam again. But if '20' is at best what a student expects to score and at that score he gets a job or a certain course which hones whatever skills he has then let him get on with it, who are we to say that that student has 'failed' and must score 35. Stop this arbitrariness.
  • The second thing we need to do, is to stop this business of absolute marks. This is insane to my mind. Putting out a number that a student has scored 97% marks in aggregate and another student has scored 96.9% is to my mind a false precision that we give. The exams conducted are at best an indicator of how well/otherwise a student is compared to other. Giving such precise numbers creates false sense of superiority/discrimination which the exam is not capable of doing. Saying that someone who scores 550 marks in aggregate is a better student than someone who scores 549 is precisely the kind of precision our examination system is incapable of measuring but that is what we precisely end up doing. Admissions to colleges are gained/lost by a single mark. That difference could simply be attributed to randomness and not to skill or intellect. Certainly one can conclude that the student who has scored 550 has done better than a student who has scored say 450 but not 549 or 540. So the solution is to put grades where students in a certain range of scores are bunched together. This will stop the mad competition for marks that is currently plaguing our education system. How insane are things when a student scoring just a single mark less than other student gets rejected admission to a college - precisely because he scored 1 mark less than a student on one particular day on one particular exam. Its insane. We no longer want our students to learn, but simply to score marks. (And this should apply equally to the entrance tests also)
  • Another byproduct of introducing the grading system rather than absolute percentage system is that it will force colleges to give admissions after some thought. Currently colleges have the most easy task when giving admission. They just take the top x number of students (where x is number of seats) by marks scored. Now with the grades business, it would not be that simple. Certainly colleges have the right to choose the best possible students, but now choosing the best possible students would imply a bit more hard work on the part of colleges. They would ideally have to consider someother parameters also while giving admission to discriminate among students (many would argue, including me that they ought to be doing this even under current system of absolute marks). So they might consider his extra curricular activities, maybe conduct a personal interview, social background etc etc. This would (at least in theory should) result in a superior selection relative to the earlier 'pure' marks based selection process. This ideally ought to also result in a much more diversified bunch of students being selected enhancing the overall quality of atmosphere in the college.
How much of this gets done - I haven't the faintest of ideas. But one thing is for sure, the sooner we at least think of these or some other radical ideas to take the burden of 'scoring marks' out of students and put the burden on them of 'learning' and 'understanding' the better it is for us as a nation.

That's it for now....